Top 10 What The Heck Happened Horror Endings

It’s the moment you realise – if only for a few seconds – that everything you’ve just witnessed might not be as it first appeared. Neal Damiano checks out 10 great “what the heck happened” horror movie endings.

10. Krampus

Christmas Horror - Top 10 Films

Krampus’s ending stands up to the batsh*t standard of the rest of the movie by revealing a monstrous, demonic, Christmas-time demon intent on punishing a young boy and his family for the rest of eternity. After battling it out against killer elves and perverted apparitions of classic Christmas entities, young Max is given the option to leave his family behind and learn from losing his Christmas spirit – or to be condemned to hell with the ungrateful lot instead. Max unwittingly chooses the latter, awakening the next morning to the perfect Christmas before realising he and his family are bound to a snowglobe under the watchful eye of Krampus forever more. Reliving Christmas every day with all your relatives trapped in one house is a pretty harsh punishment, even by horror movie standards.

9. Drag Me To Hell

She’s done everything right and earned her happy ending, getting a promotion, a lovely weekend away with her boyfriend, and a nice new coat because why the heck not? Until, of course, it’s revealed she’s mixed up the return of a cursed button by simply not checking the envelope it was in and skeletons literally pull her through the earth. That jacket is not going to come in handy.

8. The Witch

Most Anticipated Movies of 2016 - Top 10 Films

The film is a slow burn but it’s beautifully shot, and comes entirely left field from the uncertainty of what we had witnessed previously where the whole movie was a question of whether coincidence, hallucination, or real life phenomenon were at play. The ending damns it all by going batsh*t crazy. It’s utterly fantastic.

7. Friday The 13th

Friday the 13th, Film, Original, poster/image, part 1

Exhausted, Alice decides to take a nap in a canoe that then drifts out over the water as what’s more relaxing than being out in the open on an isolated camp ground after killing someone where they stand? Then Jason appears and pulls her down into the lake. She wakes up in a hospital with the police chief telling her there was no little boy found leading the audience to question if they’re going to see a part 2 or was it all a dream?

6. The Descent

The Descent, Top 10 Films, British Horror

After finding a car and driving away, she’s faced with an apparition of her dead friend only to wake up from her hallucination to find herself still trapped under the earth, with the creatures of the caves closing in from every angle.
It’s bleak, it’s messy, and it’s extremely effective, depicting Sarah’s mind snapping like a guitar string as the last of her torchlight flickers around her.

5. REC

The camera woman discovers the patient zero in the last moments of the movie, forced to use the night vision on the camera in an attempt to see where this horribly deformed and dangerous creature is. She gives away her position and is dragged into the darkness, but not before we see her screaming face pleading for help. Intense, incredibly scary, and original in every sense of the word, [REC] is one of the best modern horror films.

4. Don’t Look Now

Don't Look Now, Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland,

John is murdered in cold blood as he realises the visions were actually a premonition of his own death. It’s a complete surprise that goes back through every clue in the movie; making what would be a terrifically dark and scary death on its own all the more relevant . Whilst it might come out of nowhere, that’s exactly what doubles down on its terrifying qualities. Not to mention that the serial killer is actually a grown adult dwarf wearing a red jacket.

3. Videodrome

Videodrome, Film, David Cronenberg, James Woods

Turns out there’s a price when you broadcast Videodrome, a snuff TV programme that induces brain tumours in its watchers, resulting in dark hallucinations and some insane additions to the human body. In the end, Max is forced to kill himself to ascend in an attempt to take down Videodrome once and for all.

2. The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man, Robin Hardy, Christopher Lee - Top 10 Films

We’ve had several terrifying movies since and some gorier, some inflated with jump scares, and some far more brutal, but there’s nothing that compares to the deeply unsettling death of Howie through religious extremism. The film remains one of the creepiest and there’s a reason it continues to resonate.

1. Night Of The Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead - George A Romero

Playing out a shocking ending based on human complications rather than the ones related to the living dead, Ben is only killed once the threat has been controlled and a group of roaming zombie killers find him. Unceremoniously shooting him and blasting him on the pile to burn, it’s a stunning, mouth-open ending to a movie that appears on the surface to just be a dose of mad zombie mayhem, instead hiding a complicated look into society’s preconceptions underneath the whole flesh eating chaos.

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano

Your turn: what are your fave “what the heck” horror movie endings?

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About the Author
Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Fantastic topic my friend. I’m very glad you included wicker man and Friday the 13th with it. I think maybe you could include something like the ring as well. You think by helping Samara everything is great and then Wham she crawls out of the well and into someone’s living room. Truly scared the bejesus out of me

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thanks DAN G
      Friday the 13TH had to make the list. Think back to the first time you saw it. No one saw that coming it’s the ultimate jump scare. Everyone was thinking the same thing. Was it a dream or did Jason really pull her into the lake?

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    Mark Fraser Reply

    I’ve said this elsewhere, and it’s not an original thought as Danny Peary touches upon it in his first Cult Movies book, but Ben kind of deserves it at the end of Night of the Living Dead because he’s wrong in his defence strategy – the basement ends up being the safest place to be. Still, the comment on racism continues to resonate. Just one of the many reasons it’s a great film. Solid list.

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thanks for the read, Mark. I completely agree with you to an extent. He made a bad decision that ultimately cost him his life, however, not by zombies but by human hands. That’s the point we are highlighting here. It’s a big gasp at the end.

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    Callum Reply

    Some great ones mentioned Neal. The scene in Friday the 13th always freaks me out and absolutely flawed me when I first saw it,

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    Graham Anstiss Reply

    The finale of Blair Witch gets criticised but it has always worked for me as a truly unnerving ambiguous conclusion.

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      BWP is a good one❗️ That ending is so memorable and effective.

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    Killian Reply

    The reaction of Mia Farrow at the end of Rosemary’s Baby! Chilling.

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      Rosemary’s Baby is one of the greatest horror films in my opinion. With a frightening end but very explainable.

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    CineGirl Reply

    Nice selection Neal. I think Sleepaway Camp’s gender switch reveal is one which took me by surprise and A Nightmare on Elm Street has a “what the heck” moment in its last scene. But totally agree with you on Wicker Man, Descent, Videodrome etc.

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thanks Cinegirl
      Yes, Sleepaway Camp escaped me. But very easily could make the list, that ending is a complete mind flip.

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    Rory Fish Reply

    The Innocents – with Deborah Kerr – has a terrific WTF moment at the end when she’s left alone with the ghosts who enact a final moment of horror.

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      CineGirl Reply

      Oh… The Innocents… good one!

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    Roger Keen Reply

    When I saw the title of the list I thought: Krampus. Good choice, good selection.

  9. Avatar
    Neal Damiano Reply

    Stalled at 9 comments (not incl my replies), ok.
    I think it’s an interesting topic for a list❗️
    Thanks to all for the feedback ??

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    Mark Fraser Reply

    Angel Heart.

    Back in gear?

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      Good one Mark, I love that film and one of Mickey Rourke’s best performances.

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    Adrian K Reply

    Scream 2… when you find out the killer… didn’t see that coming.

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      Love the Scream series of films! The addition of Mrs Loomis was a blind surprise. Thanks for the feedback.

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    Maree Reply

    Did you forget about The Mist?

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      I did forget about the MIst, it most certain is a gasping end!! Thanks for the feedback

  13. Dan
    Dan Reply

    Interesting list Neal. Many great choices.

    When I think of great twist endings in horror I’m always reminded of the French/Dutch film The Vanishing. It was badly remade in the States.

    The twist is genius. For those that haven’t seen it you might want to look away now but I love how the protagonist (a man looking for his missing girlfriend) actually finds out who abducted her and makes contact.

    You think that’ll lead to a discovery but, while it does lead to an element of closure, it’s not what you expect. He’s so desperate to find out, he agrees to be drugged as the abductor promises to “show” him what happened. When he wakes up from the drugs, he’s been buried alive! Cue credits. Shocking.

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      It was badly done in the states for I’ve never seen the Dutch one?

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    Frankie W Reply

    Night of the Living Dead is definitely shocking. Psycho is good with Norman Bates looking directly at the camera. Very eerie.

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      A mouth wide open ending with a gasp, especially for the time. Thanks for the feedback.

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    Ross Hart Reply

    Get Out springs to mind. I haven’t seen most of these though.

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    Lucy D Reply

    The Sixth Sense.

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    Sara Whittingham Reply

    Love the way the Scream films finished back in the 1990s. More recently, the Saw films have had some good twists.

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    John Grey Reply

    You’ve missed Carrie! How can you reference ‘Friday 13th’ and overlook the best shock/jump ending to a horror film, released 4 years earlier which basically started the whole ‘false ending’ spate of films. And Rosemary’s Baby!

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      Not really Carrie was quite explained and predictable (imo) didn’t even come to mind! I’ll give ya Rosemary’s Baby though, completely slipped my mind. Thanks for the read, man.

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    CineGirl Reply

    Carrie… of course!!!

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    Jason Reed Reply

    There is no other number one – Night of the Living Dead… spot on!

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thanks man❗️

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    Mark Peters Reply

    Rosemary’s Baby got to be one of the greatest, it’s so shocking, so unnerving, so haunting. Carrie is another that I think inspired other horror filmmakers to throw in a big surprise – real or imagined – at the end of the movie. Good pick to include NOTLD at number one and great to see the terrific The Witch on here.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    I guess I’m the only one who will stick up for the American remake of the Vanishing. Jeff Bridges scared the hell out of me and I thought it was really well done. I have never seen the original so I have nothing to compare it to but for me, The Vanish really tapped into my nerves and the ending knocked me out.

  23. Avatar
    Mark Fraser Reply

    If The Vanishing can get a mention, then what about Identity?

    @ Dan Grant: you gotta see the original – it leaves the American one for dead (no pun intended).

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